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Movies: The Kid Stays in the Picture

There's nothing worse than getting trapped on the wrong end of a braggart's soliloquy, getting the rundown on all of his accomplishments and listening him recount every disappointment like it was the most important event in the annals of history. There's just nothing worse. Unless. Unless said braggart (a) has enough charisma to make his own biography enthralling, and has (b) accomplishments and (c) disappointments worthy of boast. Robert Evans has all three in spades.

The Kid Stays In The Picture is a documentary -- unless by "documentary" you mean "an objective examination of a subject", in which case it's not even close. The Kid is necessarily subjective, because the focus of the documentary is also the guy who wrote it, and is also the chap who narrates the events as they unfold before our eyes. In other words, the guy has practically made a movie about himself. And yet, somehow, he pulls off this monumental bit of self-promotion. It helps that, if Robert Evans knows anything, it's how to make movie.

Evans started out a nobody, an actor with extraordinary good looks and very little else. But good looks go a long way in Hollywood, and he eventually wound up in a few films of note. Well aware of his limitations as a thespian (i.e., he couldn't act), Evans made the jump to movie production, and soon wound up with Rosemary's Baby on his resume. From there he rocketed to the top, eventually funding a string of blockbusters including Love Story, The Godfather and Chinatown. Everything went swimmingly until the 80's, when he got hooked on cocaine and found himself ensnared in a series of scandals. But Evans managed to crawl his way out of even this cellar, and continues to produce films to this day.

It's impossible to tell which aspects of his own life Evans has embellished (or which elements he has downplayed -- funny how he doesn't dwell on his productions of Popeye and The Phantom). But after a while you find it hard to care: the story is so masterfully told that you eventually just shrug your shoulders, decide that it's all "true enough," settle back and enjoy the yarn. And to his credit, Evans seems acutely aware that much of his success is attributable to dumb luck. I spent the first 30 minutes of The Kid resisting Evan's charm, wondering why the hell I had blown eight bucks on this when I could have gone to the local pub and, for the price of a Bud Lite, listened to some random sot at the bar recount his life story. The difference, I finally realized, is that Evans isn't some random sot -- he's an extraordinary sot and a first-rate storyteller. The whole thing comes across as one of those urban legends told to you by a savvy friend: you suspect it's mostly bullshit, and you're pretty sure the teller himself suspects it's largely bullshit, but the story's so good you want to hear it anyway. Full of humor, drama, and Hollywood glitterati, The Kid Stays in the Picture may also be largely bullshit, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of the most entertaining movies of the year.

Posted on September 05, 2002 to Movies